We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.”  — Psalm 48:9

Does your church sing psalms?  Even if you worship at a Reformed or Presbyterian church – historically psalm-singing churches – there’s no guarantee that it does.  Many churches prefer hymns and modern worship music.  One of the reasons, no doubt, is that these are more digestible.  For Christians to sing psalms meaningfully, they have to think about what they’re singing.  For some that’s a drawback.  I don’t agree.  Hymns and modern worship music typically have a hard time matching the richness of the psalms.  What I mean is that the psalms often work on various levels of meaning as they take in a wider scope of God’s revelation. 

Take Psalm 48:9 for example.  I’ve quoted the ESV above.  In our churches’ Book of Praise, it’s rendered into this rhyme:

In your temple we give thought

to the peace your hand has brought,

and your steadfast love we ponder…

We were singing this in worship recently and I was thinking and pondering about the various ways these lines should be considered.  There are at least four levels of meaning. 

The first and most obvious is the original Jewish context.  In the physical temple that Solomon built, Jews could gather and think about God’s steadfast love and mercy.  As they saw the sacrificial system in action in the temple, they could meditate on the fact that there is reconciliation for sinners.  “The wages of sin is death,” but a substitute can pay your penalty.  As Christians we recognize that this is possible not because of the innate value of those sacrifices, but because they pointed ahead to Christ. 

We go to Christ to consider the second level of meaning.  The temple was ultimately fulfilled in him.  Because Jesus is the one in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily, he could claim that he is the temple (John 2:19-21).  So if we are in Christ through faith, we are in the New Testament temple.  If we are in Christ, in him we can and we should ponder God’s steadfast love and mercy.  We’ve been reconciled to God in this temple.

The third level of meaning is closely connected to the second.  Because the church is Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:12), because the church is united to him, the Bible also describes the church as being the temple in the New Testament era.  1 Cor. 3:16 asks, “Do you not know that you [plural] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you [plural]?”  When the church gathers for worship, we are in the midst of God’s temple.  This is where we hear the good news of God’s steadfast love in Christ and ponder it with joy.

The final level of meaning remains to be seen.  It’s a future reality.  Scripture tells us about the new creation and describes it in temple terms.  Rev. 21 portrays it as the dwelling place of God with humanity (Rev. 21:3).  There, in the midst of that temple, we’ll ponder God’s steadfast love for eternity and worship him for it.

All of that is packed into that one verse of Psalm 48.  There’s a lot to think about!  But, sadly, today people don’t want to think when they go to church.  They want to do minimal thinking about what they’re singing.  Keep it simple. 

In his 2020 book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James Nestor notes how our diets are affecting our ability to breathe.  Industralized food is too soft.  We don’t have to chew as vigorously as previous generations.  This is affecting our anatomy.  It’s shrinking our mouths and causing breathing difficulties, which in turn causes other health issues.   Something similar happens with what we sing in worship.  If all our songs are “soft” and don’t require us to “chew,” it’s going to affect our overall spiritual health.  But singing psalms doesn’t automatically mean you will be in better spiritual health.  You do still have to chew.  You do still have to think and ponder so everything can be properly digested.  The church which has psalms on the menu is at least offering something that can be chewed — meat rather than milk.